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UD Special Collections > Exhibitions > In Focus > Portrait Photography > Next

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“…[t]o produce an intimate likeness rather than a banal portrait, the result of mere chance, you must put yourself at once in communion with the sitter, size up his thoughts and his very character.” –Nadar


The long exposure time of very early daguerreotypes made portraits impractical. Subjects could not move for upwards of eight to ten minutes. Additionally, the amount of light necessary to expose the image in an indoor studio was extreme and focused using mirrors, making for an unpleasant experience for the sitter. Close examination of early dauguerreotypes and photo equipment catalogs reveals the use of neck braces, back stands, furniture, and other supports to stabilize the subject as studio portraits were taken. Improvements to lenses and increased light-sensitivity of plates allowed for the reduction of exposure time to mere seconds.

Daguerreotype studios specializing in portraits then opened almost everywhere in the western world. The low cost of materials made portraits affordable for nearly everyone. The high mortality rate in the nineteenth century made portraits of loved ones especially desirable, including the practice of photographing the recently deceased. The high sentiment of capturing, collecting, and sharing images of “beloved, most cherished” family and friends helped popularize and commercialize photography in the nineteenth century.

At its most basic, portraiture records the features of a subject. At its most poetic, portraiture captures and interprets the subject’s personality. Portraiture may reflect technical trends of the media, stylistic trends the photographer’s technique, or fashion and setting of the subject. For example, early photographic portraits relied heavily on the conventions of the painted portrait. Over time and through experimentation, innovative uses of lighting, focal point, and framing have transformed portraiture into works of art.

Through collections of personal papers as well as in separate acquisitions of prints, photographs, and images, the University of Delaware Library holds numerous examples of stunning portrait photography. Those selected in the Reading Room gallery represent twentieth century works grouped by subject or photographer. Items in the Reading Room exhibit case reflect technical and artistic guidelines on portrait photography, as well as contemporary works that address the manipulative characteristics of technique, media, and individual artistry and subject modeling that contribute to memorable portraits.

Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese.

Line up. . Philadelphia : Madness of Art Editions, 2006.

Manipulation of photography is an integral part of processing and developing the media that began with the earliest photographers making choices in the control of light and focus of his or her subject. Digital photography has taken the practice to a new extreme, as demonstrated with Line up, a series of portraits of Bush administration officials that were reconstituted as mug shots by conceptual artists Nora Ligorano and Marshal Reese.

Ligorano and Reese altered portraits of Bush and others, affixing their heads to figures posed for mug shots. The signs held in the portraits include dates on which the subjects made statements of questionable veracity relating to Iraq. The project included a postcard book and video based on the exhibition.

This portfolio was published in an edition of 50, with 10 artists proofs, signed and numbered by the artists. This is number 8.

Papo Colo, (b. 1946)

Photogenics. First edition. New York, N.Y. : Exit Art, c1983.

This edition of 500 copies was produced in duotone print from original monoprints. The folio includes Photopoems (1979) and Acting as behavior (1982), as well as an introductory dialogue between Papo Colo and Jeanette Ingberman (d. 2011), Colo’s cofounder of the cultural art center Exit Art.

Colo, who was born in Puerto Rican, stated, “The face is a hierogphyic of our biography.” Ingberman responded, “In these photographs, the artist is both actor and director, model and photographer, author and manipulator of the text (in meaning and visual presentation.” Shown are photopoems for “Talk” and “Censor.”

Das deutsche Lichtbild. Berlin : R. & B. Schultz, 1934.
from the library of Mary B. Larcher

This German annual of photography showcases a range of styles, including this page spread of expressive portraiture.

J. P. Ourdan.

The art of retouching / by Burrows & Colton. Revised by the author, J. P. Ourdan. New York : E. & H. T. Anthony, 1880.

In addition to explanation of lighting and camera techniques, this nineteenth-century text provides detailed anatomical description of the bone and muscle structure of the human face to help the portrait photographer understand his or her model.

Leonard Helicher.

Federal Prison Center 1940s : a decade of American mugshots. Paris : Carnets of Rhinoceros Jr. ; Paris : Librairie Serge Plantureux (distributor), 2007.

Like Ligorano/Reese and artist Maureen Cummins, whose Cherished beloved and most wanted is shown in the front gallery, Helicher has created a contemporary art project from mug shots, an unusual form of portrait photography. Helicher’s small book is a collection of found photographs from a New York flea market. 757 copies were printed by Mame on 16 October 2007; 57 deluxe copies include a vintage mug shot. This copy is signed by Helicher.

“Marshall P. Wilder” photograph by Otto Sarony Company in Burr McIntosh monthly. Volume 8, number 30. New York, Burr McIntosh Publishing, September 1905.
gift of Joseph P. Fraczkowski

William Burr McIntosh (1862-1942) a star of 53 silent films, was also a lecturer, movie studio owner, pioneer in the early film and radio business, reporter, author, photographer, and publisher of Burr McIntosh Monthly (1903-1910). The monthly (6 x 12 inches in size) featured portraits of celebrities, landscapes, and other vertical or panoramic subjects—many in color—that were suitable for removal and framing.

The humorist and sketch artist Marshall Pinckney Wilder (1859-1915) was famous in America and abroad, appearing on Vaudeville and undertaking a world tour in 1904. This sequence of Wilder, which appears here with portraits of his face representing days of the week, was also published in a 1905 issue of Theatre Magazine, with the portraits in reverse, titled “The Evolution of a laugh.”

Fred P. Peel.

Shadowless figure portraiture. New York : Galleon Press, c1936.

This book is from the same Galleon series as Masters of Modern Photography (1937), shown with books on art photography in the front gallery.

“Child life number.” Volume X, number 6. Photo-craft : the American journal of photography : an illustrated monthly of photography and allied arts. Philadelphia, Chicago : June 1903.
William I. Homer papers, gift of William I. Homer

Portraits of Beverly Nicols (1898-1983)
from the Beverly Nichols papers

British novelist, playwright, journalist, composer, and political activist John Beverley Nichols was best known for his sentimental and witty musings on gardening, country life, and cats, though he also wrote about politics, religion, social satire, and autobiographical topics. As a featured columnist for London and American newspapers and magazines, and with a moderately successful career in theater in the 1920s, Nichols made regular appointments with portrait photographers for professional publicity. The Beverly Nichols papers at the University of Delaware Library house an array of photographs, from images of Nichols’s country estates, known for their exquisite landscape architecture and gardens, to many portraits, several of which were taken by leading twentieth-century photographers.

left to right :

Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980), society, war and fashion photographer
Pirie MacDonald (1867-1942), “Photographer of men, New York”
Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964), American photographer and writer
Sir Norman Parkinson (1913-1990) British fashion and portrait photographer


Portraits by Karl Bissinger (1914-2008)
portraits from the Karl Bissinger papers, gift of David Fechheimer

American photographer and peace activist Karl Bissinger is best known for his post-World War II travel, style, and portrait features for magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Flair. The Luminous Years: Portraits at Mid-Century (2003) presents Bissinger’s late 1940s/early 1950s portraits of actors, authors, dancers, and artists, many of whom were then at the dawn of stellar careers and whose creative endeavors defined a great era in American arts. Dedication to his photography career faded as Bissinger’s anti-war activism grew through his involvement with the Greenwich Village Peace Center and the War Resisters League in the 1960s.

left to right :
Patricia O’Neal (1926-2010), American star of stage and screen
Sheri Martinelli (1918-1996), Modernist muse (two portraits)
Michèle Morgan (born 1920), French leading lady of film
Carson McCullers (1917-1967), Southern gothic writer



Portraits by Rollie McKenna (1918-2003)
portraits from the John Malcom Brinnin papers

American portrait photographer Rosalie (“Rollie”) Thorne McKenna specialized in literary portraits, most notably Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914-1953). McKenna formed a close friendship with John Malcolm Brinnin (1916-1998), whom she met in 1950. Brinnin, director of the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center in New York and organizer of Thomas’s American poetry tours, was McKenna’s main contact with the artistic and literary figures who became her subjects. Her first literary portrait was of Brinnin and American author Truman Capote in Florence in 1950. McKenna’s photographs show her subjects in a natural environment, utilizing sunlight and shadow. Many of McKenna’s portraits became iconic images of the authors; several literary estates have chosen her work as the preferred photograph to represent the author. Welsh poet Dylan Thomas is known as much for his work as for his lifestyle. Poignant poems about death, lost innocence, and memory such as “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” (1951) were popular and received positive critical attention; they continue to be widely read and studied. Thomas’s reputation for drunkenness and his tumultuous relationship with wife Caitlin (1913-1994) also contributed to his notoriety. Thomas died in 1953 in New York City during one of his reading tours.

left to right :
Dylan and Caitlin Thomas
Dylan Thomas at lectern
Caitlin Thomas


Three portraits from the Paul Bowles papers

left to right :

Portrait of Jane Bowles, 1967, by Terrence Spencer (1918-2009)
Terrence (Terry) Spencer was a British veteran pilot of World War II and photojournalist who covered a range of assignments for Life magazine over a period of 20 years. This portrait of American expatriate author Jane Bowles (1917-1973) was for an unpublished photo essay on Jane and Paul Bowles and their life in Tangier, Morocco, for Life.

Portrait of Paul Bowles, 1986, “Describe yourself in 3 words : I am here, ” by Cherie Nutting (b. 1949)
American photographer Cherie Nutting is known for her portraits of American expatriate author and composer Paul Bowles (1910-1999). Nutting and Bowles cultivated a close friendship over a period of fifteen years and he contributed reminiscences to a book of her photographs, Yesterday’s Perfume: An Intimate Memoir of Paul Bowles (2000). Nutting is manager and photographer for The Master Musicians of Jajouka, who she also met while living in Morocco.

Portrait of Allen Ginsberg, 1995, by Dana Oxenberg.
This portrait of American poet Allen Ginsberg in his New York apartment is inscribed “To Paul Bowles, all the best, from Dana,” by the photographer.



Portraits of artists by Christopher Felver (b. 1946)
Christopher Felver photographs collection

American photographer and filmmaker Christopher Felver specializes in portraits of artistic and literary figures. Angels, Anarchists & Gods (1996) and other publications feature his portraits of the Beats, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The literary and artistic works of each of Felver’s subjects are found in Special Collections at the University of Delaware Library.

clockwise, from upper left :
American poet and fine press printer William Everson (1912-1994) , 1982
Chadds Ford realist painter Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), 2007
American jazz poet, surrealist, trumpeter, and painter Ted Joans (1928-2003), 1985
American lyric poet John Wieners (1934-2002), 1985
American writer of poetry, drama, fiction, essays, and music criticism Amiri Baraka (b. 1934), 1984



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